The road to reconciliation: ACU’s progress on Indigenous Accord commitments
In 2017, ACU was the first financial institution in Manitoba to sign the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.
Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord is a tool by which Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations can take action on reconciliation through commitments, transparency and accountability. The Accord was unanimously adopted by City Council on March 22, 2017, marking a significant step forward in our collective journey toward reconciliation.
ACU embraced the Calls to Action set out by the Accord in alignment with its history of working towards reconciliation since the 1990s, when Leslie Spillett became the first Indigenous woman elected to ACU’s board of directors. In the mid-2000s, in its commitment to hiring and retaining Indigenous employees as part of its diversity, inclusion and employment equity hiring policy, ACU created the Aboriginal Integration Program to assist those out of the workforce find employment at the credit union.
Signing the Accord, however, was a “public declaration and signature commitment by our CEO and the organization to be transparently accountable to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action,” says Brendan Reimer, ACU’s Strategic Partner of Values-Based Banking. “Making this public declaration is important because it brings a different depth to our organization’s commitment and journey.”
Since then, ACU joined the United Way Winnipeg TRC 92: Employer Consortium, which provides a forum for business-to-business learning about truth and reconciliation and Indigenous employment.
Creating an Indigenous Leadership Circle
Around the same time ACU signed the Accord, a group of employees who identify as Indigenous to Turtle Island started the first-ever Indigenous Leadership Circle (ILC). The employee-led initiative organizes cultural events and experiences, promotes Indigenous achievements and offers learning opportunities within ACU and the community.
“Indigenous Leadership Circles are becoming more common within organizations, but when ours started at ACU, it was unique,” explains Brendan. “The ILC founding happened in parallel to the signing of the Accord, and it was received with open arms by senior leaders because of our commitment to the Calls to Action.”
Based on Brendan’s experience with the ILC, the key to successful outcomes is commitment from senior leaders and direction from Indigenous employees. “Nothing will be more powerful and effective than elevating their voices, perspectives and priorities.”
Kirstin Witwicki, Financial Service Advisor & Founding Member of ACU’s Indigenous Leadership Circle, agrees. “It’s so incredibly important to acknowledge ACU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, because the culture of an organization must already exist in order for a circle to thrive.”
Supporting Indigenous employees
The 92nd Call to Action is an appeal to the corporate sector to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have equitable access to jobs, training and educational opportunities in the corporate sector.
“At ACU, we reaffirm the importance of our collective history and reconciliation. This includes creating financial empowerment and economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and organizations, and sponsoring events that are important to the Indigenous community,” says Kevin Sitka, ACU’s President and CEO.
“We also partner with educational institutions to provide Indigenous Peoples with training and employment possibilities. At the same time, we’re building awareness and deepening our understanding of reconciliation at Assiniboine Credit Union.”
ACU updated its employment equity hiring policy in 2006—which commits to hiring and retaining Indigenous employees—in partnership with the Louis Riel Institute, the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Department of Competitiveness, Training and Trade of the Manitoba Government. In 2015, ACU launched the Indigenous Student Bursaries Program, which is part of its commitment to the 92nd Call to Action.
Similarly, ACU has focused on growing partnerships with organizations that are Indigenous-focused or Indigenous-led.
“For us, financial empowerment is a priority and we do this in partnership with Indigenous organizations,” Brendan says. “We do that by addressing the gaps in financial services and working with organizations that support employment for Indigenous jobseekers.”
Tackling tough subjects
The conversations around reconciliation are ongoing and complex. As one example, Brendan shares that ACU has periodically revisited addressing land acknowledgments in email signatures.
“The conversations we have are just as important as our actions, because those conversations inform our journey and our actions. Even for something that might appear simple, like an email signature, the discussion surrounding it can be really profound.”
According to Brendan, self-reflection led ACU to close its offices in observance of The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30 this year, as well as on Monday, Oct. 2.
“It’s not a holiday, but it creates space for a day of thought and action. We take the opportunity to emphasize the importance of the day with our employees and members.”
Crystal Laborero, ACU Board Chair, encourages people to read about residential schools, their impact and the challenges facing Indigenous Peoples today. “When you listen to what these communities have been through, it helps you understand their trauma. Understanding the ramifications of those events is the best way we can move forward.”
Going forward, Brendan says it’s important for organizations to maintain momentum on the Calls to Action.
“When we signed the Accord, it was very, very clear that this was not a project with an end date. This would be a long-term journey that requires a commitment from all levels of ACU to ensure accountability. We’re dedicated to reconciliation, regardless of organizational changes or any economic and societal shifts.”
ACU will continue to look for other opportunities to take a stand, make a commitment and engage employees and members in reconciliation — and encourage other organizations to start their own journey. Keep up with our progress on our website.
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